‘Mother!’ divides film critics, general audiences

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Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Darren Aronofsky is an abrasive filmmaker and “mother!” might be his most inaccessable movie to the general public to date.

Not only does its slow pace and odd camera framing make for a claustrophobic and uncomfortable film, but the central conceit of “mother!” is sure to ruffle some feathers.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) works diligently to repair the house her husband, Him (Javier Bardem) lost in a fire years ago. She is almost done with the project but Him, a struggling poet, cannot find the words to create his next big piece. 

Both experience delays in their work after a mysterious couple, Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), show up uninvited and quickly begin wreaking havoc.

The house in “mother!” is an exquisite testament to set design. Feeling like an MC Escher painting in its fabrication, the house often treads the line between creepy and beautiful throughout the film. The house is a dizzying maze, and its confusing layout perfectly captures the film’s intended mood.

It’s the tone and themes, though, that will keep audiences from connecting fully with “mother!,” spending its first hour and half with slow paced tension, it builds into a crescendo of chaos as the events in the house descend into absolute madness that defies reason. It’s only when you realize what Aronofsky is trying to comment on that the events of the film seem thematically resonant in retrospect. 

Despite its marketing campaign, “mother!” is not a horror film. There are unsettling moments and a particularly gory visual that will turn stomachs, but it isn’t scary. The film is more of a large scale art house thriller falsely advertised as a straightforward horror film.

The message is open to interpretation. The film touches upon environmentalism, idolism and the corruption of fame, but to say more would spoil too much of the film.

Lawrence is at the top of her game in this film. Each of her facial expressions are deliberate and controlled from frame to frame, as evidenced by the film’s abundance of dramatic close-ups. 

Bardem, too, is intense in this role, leaving you both charmed and disturbed by him. He’s never fully a villain, but he also could never be a hero. Harris and Pfeiffer are also impressive, albeit their appearance being very short. 

All this being said, the film is abrasive. It descends into madness a bit too quickly and the actual narrative makes little to no sense. There is some odd, unintentionally funny dialogue peppered throughout the movie that make the film’s final 30 minutes a little more jarring than the film deserves or sets up. 

Aronofsky was likely intentionally making the film as abrasive as it was, so while it was not altogether enjoyable, that aspect did not ruin the film in anyway. 

Brimming with impressive thematic weight, fantastic performances and twists like something out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel, “mother!” is a beautiful excursion into a hauntingly twisted house. It’s an experience that will be enjoyed by many Aronofsky fans, but one that comes with a caution label to any intrepid filmgoer unfamiliar with his divisive work.

4.5 stars out of 5